Saturday, June 15, 2024

Ottawa ceremony pays tribute to LGBTQ members who died

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Hours before Washington Square and the Jordan block in Ottawa will fill with thousands of people celebrating Family Pride Fest, about 70 people gathered Friday night at Washington Square to acknowledge the sorrow for those lost.

Friday’s Pride Night of Remembrance pays tribute to those who have died navigating their life as an LGBTQ community member.

“This is not take away from the joy of Pride Fest, but to enhance it,” said the Rev. Jennifer Amy-Dressler, of Open Table United Church of Christ, Ottawa. “By remembering those who are not here to revel in the affirmation and the love, we honor their experience and we honor our own sorrow. By remembering them we may be enabled to set aside some of our own hurt and to bring them along with us into the full enjoyment of (Saturday’s) event.”

Along with Dressler, the Rev. Michael Dwyer of Christ Episcopal Church, Ottawa; the Rev. Seamus Enright of First United Methodist Church, Ottawa; the Rev. Phillip Potaczek, of Trinity Lutheran ELCA, Ottawa; and the Rev. Satya Sudhakar, of Epworth United Methodist Church, Ottawa, participated in leading prayer and songs Friday in the memorial service. “Courage to be Who We Are” in memory of Gwen Araujo and “Singing for Our Lives” were sung by the group with Matt Makeever of Trinity Lutheran ELCA on the keyboard.

Mony Ruiz-Velasco, deputy director of Equality Illinois, spoke about continuing to support and fight for LGBTQ rights, saying 500 anti-LGBTQ bills were proposed in the past year, including some in Illinois. These bills sought to ban books, require teachers to out LGBTQ students and limit access to LGBTQ resources, Ruiz-Velasco said.

“We can’t let our guard down,” Ruiz-Velasco said.

Some of the names of those in the LGBTQ community who died across the U.S. in the past year were read and their stories shared, including the story of Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old non-binary Owasso, Oklahoma high school student who died of suicide by drug overdose the day after a physical altercation in the girls’ restroom of their high school. Pasha Ripley, a co-founder of the Parasol Patrol, spoke about being moved by Benedict’s story and cautioned of the danger still present for students who come out.

Memorials were illuminated on the sidewalks of Washington Square with names and messages about those who died in the LGBTQ community.

Attendees were reminded support for the LGBTQ youth and allies ages 12-20 is provided at the Youth Outlook Drop-In Center every Tuesday evening. Email

“Whoever you are, be yourself,” Dressler concluded at the ceremony’s end. “Your whole self, your true self, without excuse, without shame. Stand on love.”

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